If you haven’t already seen Surly Amy and Harriet Hall come together on common ground, it’s definitely worth looking at. It’s a master class in generosity and humility. Steven Novella, who acted as an intermediary in helping Amy and Hall smooth the path toward understanding, also posted their letters at his blog Neurologica.
Along with the letters, Novella posted his take on the general situation in which both last year’s TAM and the recent blog posts have happened. In response, the usual arguments were trotted out to suggest the harassment really isn’t something the skeptical and secular communities really need to worry about. Novella’s responses to that were good and much appreciated.
Then Justin Vacula showed up, still trying to peddle the idea that the harassment is just the little price that some of us have to pay in order to have an opinion. Novella pointed out that he was both minimizing and mischaracterizing the situation. So Vacula (in a comment that included a couple of quotes for which he both seems to be the source and is demanding citations) tried again.
Here are some tips, anyway, for Rebecca and anyone who faces criticism/hate to reduce the criticism/hate:
Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.
Avoid commenting on websites of your ideological opponents.
Refrain from attacking individuals; stick to criticism of ideas rather than persons.
Consider how people might respond to what you write. Can something be reframed so as to not lead to undesirable criticism?
Avoid sharing content when experiencing heightened emotions (great anger, disgust, stress, etc)
Consider sharing something with friends before it becomes public. A second (or third) set of eyes might suggest helpful edits which would avoid negative feedback.
Sadly, Novella agreed with this at face value.
Justin – you specific recommendations at the end of your last comment are all reasonable.
I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have done the same in his position. It generally sounds reasonable until you realize that half of those amount to “Stop talking” and the rest–given as advice–assume facts not in evidence. For example, one of the strengths of Skepchick is that multiple authors means multiple eyes on a piece before it’s published. Telling someone who already does that to do that is very much like just telling someone who disagrees with you to “Think about what you’re saying.”
However, it’s “Consider how people might respond to what you write. Can something be reframed so as to not lead to undesirable criticism?” that I really want to address in this post. Having dealt with Vacula directly and watched several others deal with him as well, I have to ask some questions.
- How was I supposed to expect that Vacula’s response to “We’re done here” and “Leave me alone” in our first Twitter conversation would lead to him continuing to tweet at me for months, until it became common knowledge in his group that unwanted @ mentions could contribute to account suspensions? Is there any way to reframe that such that the freeze peach brigade doesn’t consider it a violation of their right to make me hear them at any time and place?
- How was I supposed to expect that documenting the harassment of the slime pit would lead Vacula to claim that I can’t be stalked because I’m a public figure? Is there a reframing in existence that can keep people from giving unfounded and incorrect legal advice that suits their friends’ ends?
- How was Ophelia supposed to expect that publishing the letters she received about TAM that led to the final straw in her decision not to attend would lead Vacula to read only the innocuous bits of the letter on his podcast talking about how unreasonable she was to stay home? Is there a way to reframe that letter that could have forced him to attend to the salient bits?
- How was Amy to know that filing a DMCA takedown notice for art she owned would lead Vacula to pen a guest post for a SPLC-identified misogynist website? Is there a way to reframe exercising your rights that won’t automatically force people to align with a hate site?
- How was Jen to know that telling people that her boyfriend was concerned about her would lead to Vacula claiming he tells her what to do? Is there a way to reframe that information that provides protection from people who care more about laughing with their friends than your mental health?
- How was Melody to know that choosing when and where to deal with “critics” on Twitter would lead to Vacula making a YouTube video calling her a “professional victim”? Is there a way to reframe limiting your exposure to constant negativity that can’t have the nonsense label du jour slapped on it?
- How were the Skepchicks to know that offering a workshop at CSICon would lead to Vacula saying they produce “everyday nonsense” on the conference hashtag? Is there a way to reframe teaching skepticism that keeps people from using hashtags for their own purposes, whatever they may be?
- How was EEB to know that leaving a comment on Ophelia’s blog would lead to Vacula doing a “dramatic reading” of that comment on YouTube then posting it at the slime pit? Is there a way to reframe being tired and upset that would keep him from giggling through her distress?
- How were all of the women who have talked about their experiences being harassed or objectified at movement events supposed to know that Vacula would choose to sweep aside their numbers as a general failure to provide any evidence that harassment is a problem in skepticism or secularism? Is there some perfect way to reframe these experiences that would keep Vacula from sticking his fingers in his ears and singing, “La, la, la, la, la”?
Given that Novella noted that Vacula was doing just that, even after all the people who have commented in various places about this, I have to conclude the answer is, “No.” Admittedly, I’d already considered Vacula’s “advice” to be so much self-serving bullshit, but it’s worth checking the math every now and again.
Ironically, Vacula tweeted something today that’s relevant to this.
It’s true as far as it goes, but it leaves out something very important. Sometimes the identity of the person making an argument tells us what their argument really says. It tells us what background they’re leaving out of their argument to make it sound as though they’re being reasonable. It tells us what they intend to use agreement with their argument to justify next. In short, it tells us how much charity is reasonable in interpreting the words of the argument.
If I were in Novella’s place, I might well have agreed that Vacula had a point with his “tips”. Novella sees an odd slice of the harassment through the SGU, but he doesn’t see everything that’s going on. When it comes to harassment, only those of us who are receiving it see that, and only if we compare notes.
Remember that next time you see someone who’s been harassed disagreeing with you about whether that “reasonable” argument is really so reasonable.